A year ago, the Falcons leaned heavily on Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson at defensive tackle, with real snaps for Corey Peters and a smattering of snaps for Jonathan Babineaux (who was playing end) and Ra'Shede Hageman (who was a rookie) tossed in there. Everything has changed this season, even though the Falcons will return four of their defensive tackles.
Jonathan Babineaux played 695 snaps last year out of a possible 1,083, and now that he's a year older, that number will probably not go up. Paul Soliai remains the kind of two-down player who earned 502 snaps last year, but won't go much higher than that count because of his third down limitations. Tyson Jackson got 512 snaps a year ago, and his count will depend entirely on how effective he can be for new coach Dan Quinn this summer. Ra'Shede Hageman, meanwhile, got just 220 snaps and is in line for a significant increase in his playing time heading into 2015. I expect the team's emphasis on strong edge players to come to the fore in 2015, which means you essentially have four players rotating heavily at five spots, and possibly one more if the team drafts one and/or likes Ricky Havili-Heimuli.
My gut says you'll see a lot more of Big Shede, who is the youngest, most promising defensive tackle the Falcons currently have. Babineaux should see a slight drop in his snap counts as the team looks to keep him fresh, and Soliai will continue to be a logical choice to anchor the line during run downs. That leaves Tyson Jackson as the obvious choice to see a significant reduction in snaps.
That sets up an interesting case for Jackson, who is owed quite a bit of money over the next few years. If Jackson can play at a high level for 300-something snaps in 2015, the team may think he's worth keeping around at full price or a re-negotiating salary. If he's the same kind of distinctly average player he was in 2014 in less snaps, though, he may very well be heading out the door in 2015, when the team can safely put a draft asset or two toward getting another young, talented defensive tackle to pair with Hageman for the future.
Assuming Hageman plays better this year, I could see him paired with Paul Soliai on early downs, with Hageman and Babineaux or perhaps Babineaux and Jackson lining up next to one another on third downs. In a simpler, more aggressive scheme, I think those could be very effective sets.
What follows is a deeply unscientific guess at the percentage of snaps each tackle will play:
How do you think defensive tackle will shake out?